If you want to take your data on the go, you’re going to want to invest in an external hard drive disk (HDD). The problem is that finding the right portable HDD involves more than comparing price tags and storage sizes. Disk speed, read/write times, and USB C compatibility are all important factors that should be considered before you settle on a device. To help you find the right external hard drive in 2020, we tested out this year’s top models from brands like Western Digital and Seagate.
The best external hard drives at a glance
- Best overall: Samsung T5
- Most lightweight: Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim Portable
- Toughest: Adata SE730H
- Best budget hard drive: Western Digital My Passport Ultra
- Best professional storage: Western Digital My Book Duo
- Best wireless hard drive: Western Digital My Passport Wireless
Drawing inspiration from its predecessor, the Samsung T5 is a compact, affordable, high-speed storage drive that looks and feels like a top-tier portable storage solution. Utilizing the latest generation of Samsung’s 3D V-NAND technology, it packs up to 2TB of storage space in a tiny design, though it comes in a variety of storage sizes at different prices.
In our Samsung T5 review, the solid-state drive dominated the competition (and its T3 prequel) in read and write tests, while maintaining the same physical footprint. Encased in a solid, aluminum shell, Samsung claims this external drive can withstand a drop from as high as six feet without difficulty. Although we would hardly suggest you put such claims to the test, it’s important that external drives — which are not protected by the shell of a desktop or laptop — are sturdy enough to withstand a little punishment.
Thanks to its speed, compact sizing, and additional features like compatible encryption software, there is no other drive we can recommend as highly as the Samsung T5. It can be expensive when you get toward the top-end of the storage space spectrum — the 2TB configuration will cost several hundred dollars — but it’s much cheaper than it was a couple of years ago and if you can afford it, this is the external drive for you.
If you’re looking for something portable that’s also reasonably priced, the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim Portable will likely fit the bill. Not only does the mechanical drive weigh a paltry 4.8 ounces and measure a mere 9.65 millimeters thick, but it touts an affordable price tag ($80 for 2TB, or $60 for 1TB). The speeds aren’t going to rival that of a solid-state drive, but our benchmarks show it can compete with any mechanical external on the market despite its extremely portable footprint. The case is currently available in either silver or gold and is primarily made of plastic with an aluminum top.
Searching for an extra-durable SSD drive? You’ve found it! This 500GB Adata model is designed to withstand tough conditions, with IP68 dustproofing, military-standard shockproofing, and waterproofing. This allows the drive to survive while submerged in six feet of water for an hour without damage, so rain and puddles should pose no danger. The connection uses USB 3.1 Gen 2 type C (for read/write times up to 500 MB/s), so compatibility should pose no problem. While you can take this drive anywhere, you have to be careful not to lose it, as it measures only a few inches across.
The recently-introduced Western Digital My Passport drive isn’t the lightest on the market, but it does come with a three-year warranty and WD’s reputation for reliability. It’s also available at a low price — the 1TB model costs a mere $50. Best of all, the drive doesn’t require external power and showcases a sleek, stylish build, which is likely why it’s the first choice for many. It even comes in multiple colors, if the yellow above is a bit much for you.
If you want a more robust, long-term external drive, the WD MyBook Duo is a great choice. This massive enclosure comes with up to 20TB of storage for $800, or as little as 4TB of storage for $259 — and a few other configurations in between. You can configure the two drives inside this enclosure as a RAID, for file redundancy, or take advantage of every byte of storage. Either way, you get a lot of storage space and a two-year warranty from a reliable brand.
Supporting USB 3.1 for high-speed data transfer, the MyBook Duo’s case is also user-serviceable, meaning you can replace broken drives yourself, and use the enclosure long after the drives break down. And with full support for 256-bit AES hardware encryption, you can make sure nobody can read your data but you.
For busy users — particularly those in the outdoors — connecting an SSD to a USB and then to a computer for review can be a pain. WD’s wireless version of My Passport alleviates this issue by offering wireless streaming for quick review of photos and video, and easy uploads. A one-touch button will transfer files from an SD card or a USB device (both integrated into the drive). The wireless capabilities can last for 10 hours of 720p streaming and it can handle up to 4k video if necessary. As you can imagine, it’s an excellent pick for photographers on the go.
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